What’s the Best Way to Impact a Bad Field of Energy?

Last week I wrote about how a “field” of energy can envelope a culture. Here are the survey results — both troubling and s-o-o-o intriguing, as people selected three statements that “most accurately describe the environment, the “field of energy” in their office (or whatever milieu is central to their life: team, campus, family)”:

Click here for larger version of chart

Almost exactly half of those responding (68 of 137) identified their culture as “heavy and slow.” “People-growing” cultures were second, followed by “tired” cultures.  As they used to say in the 60s, “that’s heavy, man, a real bummer.”

There’s thus a decent chance that you would describe your culture as characterized by one of these almost undeniably unfavorable climates — both for productivity and for satisfaction.  So, what would you, as a member of this large and smart group of readers, suggest? What’s your prescription?

Here’s mine:

(1) Have a vision.  (2) Ask questions!  In both cases:

THE TIRED CULTURE:  The most essential thing an everyday leader can do is find within himself or herself a sense of WHY, to what end, to what purpose? Then you can, for example, turn “politics” into the vision our Founding Fathers only dreamed of; turn “customer service” into the chance to bring light into a weary customer’s life and to build a business you’re proud to be a part of; or turn even “garbage collection” into helping create sanitary and proud communities.  If it’s too much (all the time) to speak like Martin Luther King about the meaning of work, then ask questions like: “What would make us feel great?” “What are we REALLY trying to do?” “Who IS our customer?”  “What if we really threw down on this project?”  I have never ceased to be amazed at how a straightforward question can unassumingly change everything in a group’s process.

What about the HEAVY AND SLOW culture?  First and again: it starts with you, the everyday leader!  You must BELIEVE — even if no one else does and there’s little sign that it’s true – that your group can make decisions, can reach conclusions, can take some risks. One of the coolest things that I’ve seen a few times as a consultant is the amazing power when a team that has been knee-deep in its own sludge, then finally makes one solid decision, and begins to feel great confidence with solid ground beneath its feet. One or two more decisions like this, and suddenly they’ve generated momentum; “heavy and slow” becomes “lighter and steady,” if not bright and quick.

In the heavy and slow culture, questions can also be so powerful.  One of the most effective is, “What might we gain if we just make our best decision now?”  A second one is, “It seems there’s some risk to deciding now. I agree. What do we think the cost is to waiting? Are we losing something by NOT deciding?” A third is pretty basic: “What will we learn by waiting, and what are odds it will be significantly different than what we know now?”  (You might also mention the Marines, who are playing a high-stakes game guide yet themselves by a 70% rule; when they’re 70% ready they go, because not acting has costs, things will always change, and adjustments can be made, once they take action.)

One final point.  Reversing a field takes risk and often takes repeated efforts and marginal gains.  The great things about questions is they minimize risk; you can pose them without taking too strong a position, and equally important, when you ask a question rather than taking an issue you can depersonalize it. The boss doesn’t feel attacked and you don’t look like an attacker.

A good question is a strategic way to

Lead with your best self,